Oct 22 2041: Facing Likely Final Start, Dunbar Reminisces on Being a Career Raven - by lostraven on August 5th, 2019
For Immediate Release
23 October 2041 - Corvallis, Oregon
For a man who's been with a single baseball team for his entire career, the slightly grayed and normally contemplative Stuart Dunbar was acting like it was his first day in the Minors. The smile on his face was enormous, and so was his glove, as he shagged pop flies in left field in preparation for what may very well be his final career start.
"I always wanted to play a little outfield," said Dunbar afterwards. "I actually had my sights on chasing down fly balls and robbing homers when I was growing up, but mom ..." His voice trailed off for a moment. "She saw something in my arm and signed me up for pitching classes in first grade."
The Los Angeles native reminisced on his childhood and his college years at California Polytechnic. "Man, those were some good years. But it wasn't until pitching at Polytechnic that things got a little more complicated. I was humbled by losing some big games, and I first realized I had a propensity for giving up a lot of flies and bombs."
In truth, Dunbar always found success with pitching despite his flyball nature. It wasn't, however, until his first year in AAA that really got him worried.
"It was awful. Something like 33, 34 home runs with the [Rockaway Beach] Snappers in my first year of AAA. I really started to doubt myself and whether I'd succeed. But Billy Jean, the pitching coach at the time, he told me my fast ball and control would still carry me, even if I couldn't quite get the spin I wanted on them. It was kind of a turning point. Oh, and that's when I got my nickname, 'The Jet.'"
Dunbar went on to pitch a third of a season in AAA in 2030. Then he got the call.
"Nervous," he said, when asked about the call. "I think that first start in front of the big crowd in Corvallis, man that was nerve-racking. But I quickly found I could succeed in the Bigs."
Dunbar would pitch out of the rotation the rest of the year and help propel the Ravens to League Level IV. With more experience, he found success in the rotation, keeping his fly balls and home runs in check best he could. But then in 2033, at the age of 27, Dunbar faltered.
"I started to doubt myself again," he said of that year, finishing with a career worst 4.48 ERA. "I was in a funk after that, but [manager] Youngy' surprised me. He had my old pitching coach Billy Jean visit with me for a few weeks, straighten out some hiccups in my delivery. And then it finally clicked. I finally felt like I was supposed to be here."
Dunbar settled into his new norm and soon went on to some of the best years of his career. In 2035 he went to the All Star Game for the first time and won an All-League pitching award. He would go on to have arguably his best season ever the following year, with a 3.47 ERA, 0.999 WHIP, a career high 241 innings pitched, and 220 strikeouts. That was also the year he helped the Corvallis Ravens finally make the jump to League Level III.
As his early thirties went by, his numbers started to slip a bit, but Dunbar always remained a key component of the rotation. The going got tougher at age 33 with the Ravens' introduction to League Level II, and Father Time started catching up with Dunbar. But he always believed in himself, he said.
"Naw, without a doubt. You look the truth in the face and know that your clock is ticking. Despite it, you want to get out there and give it your all, even as you see the signs, the strike percentage falling, the walks increasing ..."
When asked if he would consider one more year of pitching in some capacity, Dunbar faltered a bit.
"I'll be 36 next season. The fastball ain't what it used to be. Sure, I could pitch out of the pen a bit like I did this year, but, I don't know. I think I'd rather go out on a high note, you know? When I graduated Polytechnic, it was with a mechanical engineering degree. I've had this idea of an improved pitching machine in my head for a while. Maybe I'll get to work on that."
Whether he retires at the end of the season or comes back for one more, Stuart Dunbar reflected on what was most important to him as a baseball player.
"I'm so glad the Ravens gave me a shot. It will mean so much to me to retire as a career Corvallis Raven. I understand I'll be the first career Raven in team history, and I couldn't be prouder."
Afterwards, Dunbar grabbed his outfielders mitt and trotted off again to left field, smiling. He paused for a moment and turned.
"Catching all these fly balls, I think it's a joyful penance."
He laughed and ran off to a different pasture, seemingly giving little thought to pitching his likely final game.
Oct 24 2033: Ravens' Third Attempt at LLIV Leaves Much to Be Desired - by lostraven on October 3rd, 2017
For Immediate Release
24 October 2033 - Corvallis, Oregon
The results were far from what Corvallis Ravens owner lostraven imagined in the preseason. "If you had told me this team would be sub-.500 at the end of the season, I would have laughed," he said after the final game of the 2033 season.
The Ravens ended their tumultuous season 79-81, for the first time in modern team history placing lower than third in the division. What went wrong for the team, and can it right the ship as it takes on League Level IV for the fourth time next season? It depends who you ask.
"It stinks," said outfielder and first baseman Rodrigo Montanez after the game. "I stunk this year. I just couldn't get anything done."
"I just need to get in some extra practice in the offseason," he added, noting his struggles versus right-handed pitchers this season.
Montanez wasn't alone in his ruminations on right-handed hitting; Marcos Cano, Julio Dimas, and Calvin Perkins, among others, also lamented their hitting woes versus righties this season. Cano .221, Dimas .255, Perkins .216: with batting averages such as these against righties, it's easier to put the season in context.
It's even a bit easier when you look at the pitching. "Sure, the pitching staff had its share of woes this season," emphasized team manager Harry Youngblood, "but they really put up a fair effort this season."
The Ravens actually had the third-best runs allowed in the division at 708, with first-place Anaheim giving up 701 and second-place North El Dorado only giving up 683. When you look at the runs scored, on the other hand... The Ravens were second to last with 712, with last-place Loveland scoring 701.
Sealing the deal: The team went 32-24 versus lefties, good for second-place in that category for the entire league, but finished second to last in the league versus righties at 47-57.
"This isn't anything entirely new," noted lostraven, "but to see it to this extreme this year? I don't know."
Over the seasons, some have pointed to Corvallis Yard as being part of the problem, with its 20-foot walls in right field and deep center and left. This tends to suppress right-handed hitting a bit and, with the low walls in left, benefit left-handed hitters a bit. But is the Raven's stadium really behind their woes? Again, it depends who you ask.
Some point to the stats from this year as a reason why winning at home isn't necessarily an issue. Corvallis finished 42-38 at home, tied for second-best in the division and tied for third-best in the entire league. Away? The Ravens finished 37-43 away, third-worst in the division and fourth-worst in the entire league. Were the right-handed bats getting suppressed while on the road? This is where the answers are harder to find. Indeed, Corvallis faced some elite defenders in right field with the likes of Renton's Flash Nielsen and North El Dorado's Marcos Caballero. But it gets difficult to pin it on good opposing defense; the reality is likely a mix of many things, including admitting that several of the Ravens simply had down years, and strong efforts from newcomers such as Montoyo and Hurley simply weren't enough to offset that down effort.
"I've not had a year like that before really," said Dimas, who turns 33 next season. "Is age catching up with me, or was it simply a righty problem? I'm just going to tweak some things in the offseason and do my best next year."
Cano had a different take. "I know I had some difficulties versus righties in the minors," he said, "but nothing quite like this season, really. I mean, I had a couple of seasons similar, but I think I can only go up from here."
Manager Youngblood points to a few signs that the offense may see a rebound in the future, most notably in the form of left-handed bats. "Montoyo was a good pick-up for us," he said, praising his speedy impact in the cavernous left field of Corvallis Yard. "For someone who hadn't played much left field before, he really did a great job out there, and with the bat."
Youngblood also tipped his cap to future left-handed hitting third baseman Rick Barrow, who got a September taste of the Bigs. "Given that he only had half a season in AAA this season, I think he held his own."
"And we have many other lefty bats on the cusp," he added.
Is altering Corvallis Yard an option on the table? "I don't think we touch it," said lostraven. "We've done well enough in the past at home, and I don't think it's time to overreact."
Whatever the cause — complex or clear — the team is hoping for a better outcome in 2034, said lostraven. "This season was humbling, and I'm feeling rather fortunate that it wasn't worse, with a relegation or the sort. But I feel like the potential is still there for this team," he said.
"An advance to League Level III may not be in the cards for a couple seasons, but I'm fairly sure we have the potential to be more competitive than we were this season," he added.
Oct 24 2031: Corvallis Ravens End Season with a Wimper - by lostraven on May 2nd, 2017
For Immediate Release
24 October 2031 - Corvallis, Oregon
The Corvallis Ravens will spend the offeseason in reflection and preparation, following on the heels of an up-and-down 2031 that left them with a third-place finish in League IV.5.
"Our first taste of League Level IV was definitely a growing experience," said General Manager and Owner lostraven. "We took our lumps at the beginning and end, but we managed to put together another winning season, which is a buoy for us," he added.
In the first 20 games of the season, the Ravens lost 14, but they got better as the pitching stabilized. A particularly hot June saw the team win 16 out of 24 games, with steady play after that. But the team finished exactly as they started, losing 14 out of their last 20 for an 84-76 record.
Manager Harry Youngblood — the third manager of the team in 2031, brought in for his well-known ability to work well with both major and minor league talent — describes the inconsistency as "a product of youth development" and "seeing what we have of our players at a higher level." In particular, Youngblood points to an extremely young pitching staff, one that finished the season with all but two pitchers age 27 or younger; five are 25, and Rasheed Cannon is 24.
"Yeah, we knew our bullpen and rotation would be young and make mistakes along the way," said Youngblood. "This team has been struggling with inconsistent pitching for years, but we knew we had some up-and-coming talent in the minors. A lot of that talent is just hitting at once, and while they're young. In cases like Cannon, we'd prefer to leave 'em in AAA for another year, but the scouts say they're not going to develop much more down there. So we tried 'em, with mixed results."
Those mixed results could arguably be seen in the numbers. Take for instance the Ravens' 18-23 record in one-run games. Though the jury is still out on the significance of W-L rate for one-run games, it's tough not to look at the bullpen, which coincidentally blew 23 saves over the course of the season.
But the pitching wasn't alone in the youth movement. Many of the bats were getting their first significant taste of the majors, including 22-year-old Carlton Moss. Like Cannon, scouts said Moss was ready for the majors, though the results leave one to wonder if another year in AAA would be in order regardless. Others like 25-year-olds Calvin Perkins and Marcos Cano are still developing into impact players.
What will 2032 hold for the Ravens? It's anyone's guess at this point. Youngblood hinted at another year of uncertainty at SS; both Robinson and Combs shared the position this year, and uncertainty abounds concerning rookie Julio Robles due to his weak bat. Youngblood also suggested that looking for another solid OF bat may be top priority in the offseason, though that leaves to question who would get the cut. A representative close to the organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested Hector Lohman's struggles at the plate, particularly vs. righties, may have set him up to be cut. When asked about Lohman's performance, Youngblood was noncommittal, only saying that Lohman's defense "more than made up for the comparatively weak hitting performance."
Jul 16 2030: With First Year in League V, Ravens Send Four to All-Star Game - by lostraven on January 18th, 2017
For Immediate Release
16 July 2030 - All-Star Field
It was a hot summer day at All-Star Field, where the atmosphere was thick with anticipation in the V.10, West Division's dugout. East Division had been dominating the league all season, yet West was excited to show they weren't dead yet. And for at least four Corvallis Ravens, the honor to play at the All-Star Game was that much greater.
Coming off of two seasons where the Ravens' sent six to the All-Star game, an early-season slump and some scuffling players led to doubts about how many would actually be voted to go. In the end, the Ravens sent four this year, three returning and one new:
* C/1B Bruce Owen: .310/.388/.461 after 258 AB (Third ASG)
* 1B Lee McDaniel: .292/.377/.722 after 212 AB (Second ASG, at age 31)
* 2B/SS Julio Dimas: .334/.405/.514 after 329 AB (Fourth ASG)
* CF/RF Rodrigo Montanez: .300/.388/.506 after 253 AB (First ASG)
Of particular note has been the spectacular power show McDaniel has put on so far this year, belting 26 home runs in the first half, four more homers than he hit all season last year.
"I don't know, man," said McDaniel, who has sat all year against lefties. "I mean, I obviously would prefer to be playing full-time, but coach thinks I'll be most productive against righties, and, well, it's been tough to argue with the results. I'm just seeing the ball really well right now, like a beach ball, ya' know?"
Montanez, 27, was genuinely excited about his first appearance. "It's an honor to be out here. Coach has had a lot of faith in me, and I've been doing my best to keep the errors down and batting average up. And to think I got to play out here today with the best in the league... it's been great."
The other story, of course, has been the comparative scuffle West Division has been in, particularly since interleague play kicked in. In fact, the fourth-place Manchester Tigers in West have the same winning percentage (.513) as the top two teams in East: the Redford Dragons and Corvallis Ravens. In particular, the Utica Yankees and Ithaca Titans have smashed West opponents in interleague play, helping to buoy their standings.
But at least for today, the West got a small taste of revenge.
A crowd of 59,239 saw West Division soundly thump East 9-1. The win was largely propelled by dominate pitching performances from Redford's Iosefa Ogo and Robin Caldwell, as well as Novato Eagles' Dong Yul Hwang. Leading the offensive charge was the Ravens' own Julio Dimas, who received Player of the Game honors for his 3-for-5, two RBI performance.
May 29 2030: After Wretched 12-24 Start, Corvallis Wins Six Out of Seven Versus Top Two - by lostraven on January 5th, 2017
For Immediate Release
25 July 2029 - Novato, California
The Covallis Ravens didn't expect to have such a rough start to their introductory season in League Five. Hot off a 110-50 season in League Six and ascending to the next league level, General Manager lostraven and Team Manager Thomas Newby couldn't help but set their aim high, all the while knowing that Major-ready pitching was still their weakness. And that weakness showed, with both starter and reliever ERAs balooning with every passing day.
But in what could be perhaps considered a small bout of optimism, the Ravens have managed to do the unthinkable over the last seven games: win six against the top two teams in the division.
Oh, and the bats have come alive as well.
"Well, when we look at these last seven games, we definitely see improvement," said Newby. "Several of our starters are still struggling, but we've also seen some clutch performances from Muir, Cha, and Zamora. And it's good to see some of those bats finally come alive too."
In the seven-game stretch, the Ravens managed to win three out of four versus the Redford Dragons and sweep the Novato Eagles. A dominating performance from starter Dong Young Cha — who's been known to have a few since his acquisition in 2028 — and big hits all the way down the batting order capped the finale in Novato.
"I'm finally gaining some control over my slider," said Cha through a translator. "I really spotted the ball well, and I feel like I'm getting better."
The Ravens next face up against the Amarillo Wranglers, who bested the team in 2028 in League VI.9 and advanced to League Five. When the Ravens finally advanced in the offseason, they were surprised to find they had joined their old rival. Corvallis hopes to continue picking up wins against Amarillo, which has gone 2-8 over the last 10 games.